It seems that most runners are pretty routine oriented. We find a time to complete our runs, stick to a schedule, and get out there for the same activity every day. While more often than not this is an admirable quality, it can occasionally work against us. Many runners get so set in their routine that they don’t realize when they’re making the same running mistakes, day in and day out.
The most common running mistakes are not ones that are only made by beginners – elite athletes and seasoned runners alike may find themselves falling prey to these mistakes. Whether you’re new to running or have been hitting the roads for a long time, it’s important to take some time on a regular basis to evaluate your progress.
It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you’ve found yourself stuck in a rut or unable to improve but are not sure why, you may be making one of these running mistakes in your training.
The 5 Biggest Mistakes Runners Make
… and How to Avoid Them
Running Mistake #1: Going too hard on easy runs.
Do you ever feel like your running progress has reached a plateau? I know I do sometimes. This can be one of the most frustrating feelings. Knowing that you are putting in the miles, increasing your effort, recovering well and still not seeing any results is enough to make you feel like you’re going crazy.
The dangers of striving for improvement often leave us adjusting our training plans to challenge ourselves even more: we give a little more effort, every single time. While it’s great to give more effort, you still need to make sure to schedule in some easy days too.
Going too hard on easy run days takes away precious recovery time that our body so desperately needs to improve. Recovery is the time when muscles are repaired and gain strength, and is a vital part of our progress. Those rest and cross training days are not always enough – we need some easy running workouts as well.
So how do you avoid going too hard on easy runs?
Be intentional with each workout. Give every run a purpose: speed workouts, long runs, easy runs. Designate one day per week to focus on speed, and really give it your all during that workout. But for the rest of your runs, slow it down. Maybe schedule a few race pace miles into your long run, but for the rest of the time focus on running slowly with ease.
In general, your easy pace should be about 60-90 seconds per mile slower than your race pace goal. Tempo workouts and interval sessions can fall anywhere from 30 to 120 seconds per mile faster than your race goal, depending on the workout.
Vary your pace depending on the type of workout, and don’t get stuck completing every mile at the same pace. Go easy on the easy days – really easy – and then give it your all during speed sessions.
Running Mistake #2: Doing too much, too soon.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of running. I know this because I’ve been there (admittedly more than once). Seeing progress is so motivating that sometimes it’s hard to hold back and not continue to do more and more.
Whether you are aiming to increase your speed or increase your mileage, setting a goal and working towards it brings many different emotions. Sometimes it’s frustration and sometimes it’s pure elation. Regardless of the emotion, having a goal in mind often makes us want to do everything possible to make sure we achieve it.
This can be dangerous to runners, who are often overachievers in their sport. Setting a goal is great, but be sure you aren’t doing too much all at once. Drastically increasing your mileage or speed will put you on the direct path to injury, illness or burnout.
So how do you avoid running too much, too soon?
Create a plan to achieve your goal that increases slowly and methodically. It will likely feel that you could be doing more or improving faster, especially in the beginning – but don’t give in. Hold yourself back, especially in those first few weeks.
Try to follow the 10% rule: don’t increase anything by more than 10% per week. This rule was created as a guide for runners and athletes to help them avoid injuries from overuse. If you are increasing your mileage, play it safe by not increasing by more than 10% each week. If you’re increasing speed, start at a comfortable pace and don’t increase your speed by more than 10% each week.
Running Mistake #3: Failing to stretch or recover.
Running alone can take up so much time – so who really wants to add in an extra 10 or 20 minutes to cool down when the run is over? No one. However, taking the time to stretch and recover after each workout is essential to keeping us healthy in the long run (literally).
Recovery is a crucial aspect of every runner’s training plan, whether you’re a beginner or elite athlete. Our muscles need time to repair themselves in order to become stronger. If you are skipping out on recovery time, you may be actually keeping your body from gaining some well-deserved strength.
Stretching and cooling down helps flush out lactic acid, which is what causes muscle soreness after hard workouts. Without proper recovery, your muscles can become tight and strained, which makes them fragile and more easily susceptible to injury.
So how to fix it?
This one’s easier said than done. Be intentional about getting in some stretching and recovery time, especially after hard workouts. It may feel like a hassle in the beginning, especially if you’re used to coming in from a run and heading right to the shower or moving on with your day.
Dedicating even just 5 – 10 minutes after a run to stretch or foam roll will greatly speed up your recovery time. If this sounds like too much of a time commitment, remind yourself of your goals and that getting better involves more than just running.
At the very least, plan one day a week where you dedicate some time for stretching, yoga or foam rolling. This will help flush out any built-up lactic acid, loosen your muscles, and revamp your energy.
Running Mistake #4: Starting out too fast.
Whether you’re running a race, a hard workout, or just around your block, it’s easy to take off at the beginning when you are feeling fresh and energized. Who wants to hold themselves back when they’re feeling strong?! It’s hard to imagine the type of fatigue the end of a long run can bring when we’re just starting, so letting ourselves run faster is almost too easy as we begin running.
Starting out too fast is not only discouraging later on in the workout, as paces slow and fatigue sets in, but it often uses up energy that we desperately need to save. Holding yourself back in the beginning of a run, especially during a race, is so challenging. Watching people pass you left and right or looking at your watch as you see a slower than usual pace feels silly when you have the energy to go faster.
But finishing strong is one of the most satisfying feelings. There’s a huge difference between finishing a workout feeling miserable and failing to hit your paces than finishing with negative splits and energy left in the tank.
So how do we avoid starting too fast?
Hold yourself back. Force yourself to be really aware and intentional about your paces. Plan your run ahead of time, and prepare to run the first mile slightly slower than your usual pace. If you’re feeling good after the first mile, you can pick it up slightly and continue this trend until the end.
Remind yourself how important it is to slow down for the first mile or so, and imagine how great it will feel to finish strong. Turn the slow splits in the beginning into something positive and it’ll be easier to maintain.
Running Mistake #5: Trying to make up missed runs.
As much as we would love to be superhuman and complete our training plans perfectly, life somehow always gets in the way. Despite our best intentions, there are times during training where we come down with an illness, injury, emergency, or just plain lose motivation.
There will inevitably come a time where you are forced to skip a run. That missed run might initially make you feel like lazy, or worse – like a failure. It might be tempting to rearrange your schedule to see if you can make up that run by doubling up one day or lengthening an upcoming run.
Trying to make up a missed run usually ends up doing more harm than good. If you double up on workouts, you fatigue your body an unusual amount while not allowing any extra time for recovery. An increase in activity without extra recovery time might lead to injury and force you to skip even more runs down the road.
So how do we avoid making up missed runs?
Understand that missing runs is inevitable. When it happens, allow yourself to miss a run or two without feeling guilty. Plan to pick back up with your training as soon as you can, and just forget about the workouts that you missed.
Remind yourself that sometimes skipping a few runs here and there is exactly what our bodies need. Struggling with low motivation may be a sign of mental or physical burnout, so allowing yourself an extra recovery day from skipping a run may be just what you need to overcome the burnout.
Remember that running is always there for you – it’s not going anywhere. If you need to take a break, it will be there waiting when you’re ready to return.
Cut yourself some slack and enjoy all your accomplishments! If you find yourself making one of these running mistakes, create a plan to overcome them. Making these few small adjustments may help take your training to that next level for which you’ve been hoping.